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EPA Proposes Weakening Emergency Exemption Requirements, Requests Comments
(Beyond Pesticides, September 3, 2004) EPA announced via a September 2, 2004 press release that it is seeking public comment on a proposed rule that environmentalists see as weakening the application and review process for pesticide emergency exemptions under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Section 18. FIFRA Section 18 is a loophole in the federal pesticide law that allows EPA to permit pesticides not registered for a specific purpose be used under “emergency circumstances” such as a risk to human health or in cases of possible “significant economic loss.”

Environmentalists charge that the exemption process is a hurried, incomplete, and unprofessional one that is consistently abused by applicators who continue to use pesticides without proper testing year after year, rather than address the root of the pest problem. The Section 18 process is also seen as way for chemical companies to avoid costly safety testing procedures, yet still have its product available for use by the agricultural community.

The proposed revisions, which are expected in today’s Federal Register, would allow applicants for emergency exemptions (state and federal agencies) to: (1) generally re-certify that emergency conditions continue in the second and third years for certain repeat requests, thus eliminating the need for annual documentation – encouraging second and third year repeated use of an already abused loophole in the federal pesticide law; and (2) use a loss-based approach to substantiate the "significance of economic losses" (the most commonly used criterion for demonstrating an emergency condition) rather than a comparison of revenues under the emergency to historical variations in revenues – under this scenario, a farmer that has created pest resistance through the careless use of pesticides, can use a different pesticide not currently registered for that use, rather than taking into account historical fluctuations. Both of these proposed revisions are currently being evaluated in a limited pilot program.

Beyond Pesticides has previously commented on Section 18 Emergency Exemption Process Revisions proposed by EPA in April 2003.

Take Action: The Federal Register notice is expected to be published on September 3, 2004, and there is a 60-day public comment period.